THE LITTLE VOICE INSIDE

Have you ever noticed how life keeps giving you little ‘reminders’ until you’ve learned the lesson?

The other day, I was polishing my toenails and managed to spill nail polish on my carpet. And what colour was it? Bright red of course. And was the bottle full bottle or nearly empty? Naturally, it was full, full, full because it was brand new. So in a flash, the carpet soaked up an impressive amount. Ah yes.

And just before it happened, a little voice inside my head said ‘Careful, Kris, you could spill that. Better put your feet and the bottle of polish on a magazine or put the polish on the table.’ But did I? No, Instead, I told my little voice that I’d be careful and it would be okay. And the little voice replied to the effect, ‘Oh, dear, when are you going to learn to listen to me?’ I then proceeded to knock the full bottle of bright red nail polish over.

We’ve all got little voices inside our heads and the more we listen to them, the more accurate they become and the better off we are. Sometimes, of course, that little voice is just a sudden ‘knowing’ or a feeling, or it might be a thought or an idea that just pops into your head. Or it might speak to you in a dream. But however it arrives, your inner voice is usually worth listening to because it has access to information that you know but don’t know you know. (If you know what I mean.)

So how do you go about first of all hearing, and then listening to, that little voice? You can’t even begin to hear it if you’re always on the go, never stopping, never resting. You need stillness, both physically and, equally important, mentally, which means turning off your internal chatter so the real message can come through.

Archimedes inner voice spoke to him while he was vegging out in the bath, wondering how to determine the volume of an object with an irregular shape. The answer suddenly came to him, to which he replied ‘Eureka!’. He was so excited that he ran through town having forgotten to put his clothes on. Newton’s inner voice came as an apple landing on his head as he dozed under an apple tree, explaining that gravity works the same way on little objects like apples as it does on big objects, like planets.

So give your inner voice a chance by taking a little mental and physical rest. Your voice inside may whisper at first, but the more you tune into it, the clearer it becomes. Just remember to put your clothes on.

Tips for all leaders

We’ve been looking at some ideas to keep you afloat while you find your feet if you’re a new leader. I thought we’d look at tips for all leader-managers in this post. Since a huge part of your job no doubt entails communication, the tips are in the form of eight positive principles for cooperative communication. And here they are.

  1. Soften the ‘you’s’ or turn them into ‘I’s’ to avoid sounding pushy and dictatorial. So instead of saying ‘You’ll have to …’ say ‘Could you …’ or ‘Would you be able to …’ or ‘What I need is …’.
  2. Turn your cant’s into cans. Instead of ‘We can’t do that until next week’ say ‘We’ll be able to do that next week’.
  3. Take responsibility. It’s tempting to push blame onto someone else or to an unfortunate turn of events or an unexpected situation. But we’re not kids anymore, are we? When something goes wrong, saying ‘Here’s what I can do to fix that’ is much better.
  4. Say what you want, not what you don’t want. Rather than ‘Don’t race through this and make mistakes’ try ‘Think this through – take it one step at a time.’
  5. Offer improvement suggestions. When you’re tempted to say ‘That was OK but …’ or ‘That works except …’ try ‘If you do X, that will make it perfect!’
  6. Turn complaints into requests. ‘You never …’ becomes ‘How about…?’
  7. Share information. Rather than argue or accuse, you can offer your point of view and explain how you see a situation.
  8. Leave doors open. That way, a flat out ‘No’ can become a ‘Yes, as soon as …’.

These principles not only strengthen your working relationships, they also make you a great role model for your team and set the tone for a positive working climate.

Tips for new leaders Part II

Now that you’re no longer ‘one of the gang’, you may want to make a few verbal contracts with your former workmates to identify potential problems and how to avoid them. The goal is to agree ground rules for working together. Lead the conversation to cement your new relationship. If a team member/friend asks for special treatment, consider whether you’d provide it to other team members. When the answer is No, the answer is No. You will face difficult decisions and doing what is needed sometimes makes you unpopular.

Find a mentor to talk through difficulties with. Build support networks and ask for help when you need it (and offering plenty of help in return). Learn to work well with your new boss and agree your measures of success so you can spend your time working to priorities. That means you may not always be available to your team and sometimes you need to say ‘Sorry, I don’t have five minutes now. Can we catch up at 4 o’clock?’.

Maintain a ‘tidy’ workplace, one that operates safely at all times and respects people as individuals, for the contributions they make and for what makes them special. Not everyone has to love everyone but each team member should understand what the others do, value their contributions and treat each other with professional respect and common courtesy.

Make time to step back and reflect on how you’re going. Do this every day, perhaps as you sit on the train or have your morning cuppa. What are you doing that’s working well? What isn’t working so well? What can you do better? Should the ‘imposter syndrome’ strike, remember that you got the job because you deserve it.

Robert Frost wrote: Education is hanging around until you’ve caught on’. The same might be said of leadership. Build your own leadership model and add to it as you grow into the role and develop your skills in your own way. Adapt effective behaviours of other leaders but don’t copy them because it won’t look authentic; something that is perfectly natural for one leader can easily look fake and forced when copied by another leader. Your actions need to be true to yourself and in harmony with your own personal style.

Here are some concepts to apply in your own unique way:

  • Build employee engagement and motivation to drive productivity and customer loyalty.
  • Build pride in good performance and achievements.
  • Build a solid risk awareness and safety culture.
  • Lead by conversation, not dictation.
  • Make clear and role model the behaviours and attitudes you expect from your team.
  • Show that you appreciate people’s efforts.
  • Show that you expect members to learn and share what they’ve learned.

Leadership begins inside, with your mindsets and world views. More than anything, you need to think like a leader.

Leadership is a lifelong journey. So hang in there and you’ll catch on!

Tips for new leaders Part I

From the moment you take up a leadership role, people are watching you. You are leading by example and the only question is: Is it the example you want to set?

As a leader-manager, you’re no longer a ‘me’ working on getting great results as an individual performer (even though that might be what earned you the promotion). Your job is now ‘we’ – getting great results from others by harnessing the power of collective effort. It isn’t your job to impress your new team. Your job is to get to know them and find out how you can help them do their jobs well.

Build a culture that strives for high productivity and quality and one that is enjoyable and personally rewarding for your team members to work in. You’re only as good as your followers’ performance, individually and as a team, so set high standards and insist on peoples’ best efforts. No one will thank you for mediocrity. That doesn’t mean micromanaging, but finding out what people need, procuring it for them, and standing back while they get on with it, ready to help when they need it.

Australians don’t like a ‘task master’ boss, one who is autocratic, results-driven and provides little feedback. People whinge and ultimately do the bare minimum and ‘the numbers’ crash. Concentrate on your team and helping them hit ‘the numbers’, not on bossing people around.

Good leadership, for Australians, is based on quality relationships and we’re either ‘full on’ or ‘full off’ in terms of engagement and motivation. This means that the little things really count, like saying ‘G’day’ and using a person’s name. Open communication, without compromising confidentiality, is seen as a sign of trust and inclusion. In contrast, ‘mushroom management’ – keeping people in the dark – is definitely not appreciated. Make sure you include all team members when you share information, too, not just a favoured few.

Stay visible and talk – and listen – to people face-to-face. Don’t retreat behind your desk and fire off emails and don’t pretend you have all the answers. Spend time building relationships with your team and across the organisation.  Jot down a few notes to make sure your memory isn’t selective and stay alert for feedback, especially the non-verbal kind that can tell you what team members and colleagues really think of you. Keep your problems – work and personal – to yourself.

Most employees today aren’t too fazed by your place in the hierarchy but they’ll work for you as best they can when they respect you for your personal qualities, know what you stand for and know they can rely on you to ‘do the right thing’. But you need to prove yourself first and earn peoples’ trust and respect by demonstrating your character first and later, your competence.

Australians want positive feedback and recognition, but give it sincerely and keep it low-key. (‘Employee of the month’ schemes may work in the US but tend to flop in Australia.) We also respond best to clear and precise operating guidelines and are powerfully motivated by a clear vision and purpose. So get good at communicating and communicate them often (through different mediums and in different ways to avoid sounding like a galah). And tell the truth – Australians have finely tuned ‘bullshit detectors’.

When the results are good, step back and let your team share the glory. Remember, though, that the buck stops with you and you may occasionally need to take the blame for team mistakes.

Your role is probably more than helping your team succeed. It’s probably also helping your organisation succeed by innovating improvements that help your team work more smoothly, easily, economically, quickly, reliably, safely and sustainably.

Leadership is a big undertaking. It’s a huge responsibility as well as a privilege. Stay tuned for more tips next week.

Words that speak

A few weeks ago, we looked at how much we reveal about ourselves through our unspoken messages. But that is not to say words aren’t important. They are. They’re really important. A poor choice of words can instantly switch people off and lose you their goodwill – or gain it. Your words can instantly irritate or create cooperation, help or hinder, confuse or clarify. You can choose words that are forceful or accommodating, impartial or emotive, clear or vague, courteous or challenging, depending on your purpose.
Whatever your purpose, you probably want to choose clear, positive and powerful words.
· Clear positive and powerful because the way you talk colours the way you think and the way you think shapes the way you act.
  • Clear positive and powerful because the way you talk influences the way others see you.
  •  Clear positive and powerful because they make what you say understandable, unambiguous and persuasive.
  • Clear positive and powerful because they can set a constructive tone to a conversation.
Choosing clear words isn’t as easy as it might sound. The 500 most commonly used English words have an average of 28 meanings each, which in part accounts for people understanding something quite different from what we mean. At any rate, clear words don’t include double-speak and they generally don’t include jargon (unless you’re talking to an expert, in which case, jargon can be very clear and precise).
Clear words are usually descriptive and specific; so rather than say you’ll send something, you can say you’ll post it, air mail it, courier it or scan and email it. You might want to say when you plan to do this, too. Or in a service situation, you might instruct staff not to ‘be polite to customers’ but to ‘make customers feel like special guests in our home’.
Positive words: here’s what we don’t want to hear:
  • You’ll have to fill out the form and send it back.
  • I can’t do that until Monday.
  • Don’t do that.
Negative gets people’s backs up. Positive brings a smile to their face:
  • You’ll want to fill out the form and send it back so that I can … for you.
  • I can do that on Monday for you.
  • Try it this way.
Much better, right?
Powerful words are strong. We know a strong word when we hear it and we know a weak word, too.
  • I may be able to do that.
  • It might work.
  • I’ll try to get to that soon.
  • I’ll see what I can do.
We lose all faith in speakers of weak words and we know they don’t even begin to mean what they say. Powerful words sink in and give you credibility.
So clear, positive and powerful words are the way to go. They’ll get you a lot more of what you want.
And here’s some icing for your cake: Choose words that the other person uses.
Using similar types of words and expressions that the person you’re speaking with uses makes your words hit home even more . These might be formal or informal, correct or colloquial. Use technical terms or long words when that’s what your conversational partner uses, or everyday terms or short words when these are more in harmony.
This works because people have a characteristic way of speaking, called an idiolect. They arrange words in certain ways and use certain styles of words and expressions. Harmonising your words with theirs puts you in synch because and makes it easier for people to understand you. Your message gets through loud and clear.
Choosing the right word and the right combination of words is essential, so choose your words with care.

Staying motivated yourself

It’s hard to ask your team to be motivated when you’re not. Whether it’s to do a task you dislike or start a conversation you’re not looking forward to, or you just need ‘energising’, leader-managers need to be able to motivate themselves in order to set the pace for others.

You need three things to be motivated:

  1. the desire to reach a worthwhile goal
  2. the commitment to put in the effort
  3. the self-confidence to take action.

Desire
Large or small, you need a clear goal to hold in your mind’s eye. How will you, and perhaps others too, benefit when you achieve it? Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you locate your desire when you’re lacking motivation:

  • What positive outcome results from accomplishing this?
  • What good things result from doing this?
  • What happens if I don’t do it?
  • Why is it important that I do this?

When you’re searching for the motivation to tackle a task you dislike, try listing the major push factors (sticks) associated with the task. How can you turn them into pull factors (carrots)? Try changing your language: Instead of saying ‘I have to do this (groan)’, try saying ‘I want to do this because …’ Having to do something usually leads to half-hearted attempts while wanting to do something produces whole-hearted efforts and a better result. (Even this works, lame as it is: ‘I want to do this to get it out of the way and off my desk.’

Commitment
Are you committed enough to willingly put in the time and effort required to achieve your goal and to forgo something else in order to achieve it? For example, part-time study while working at a full-time job takes a lot of commitment. You may need to pass up many enjoyable personal, family and social activities in order to study or attend classes. How willing are you to put off short-term pleasures for long-term rewards?

Try mentally projecting yourself into the future and seeing yourself achieving your goal. Feel your success. Savour it. When your goal is a big one, break it down into a series of interim goals, or set dates and jot down a simple plan to get you moving.

Think about what might be stopping you from making a start or continuing to work towards your goal. What can you do to remove those barriers? For instance, it can be difficult to study in a noisy environment. What could you do to make it quieter? Could you study in a different environment, one more conducive to thought and concentration, or put on some headphones to deaden the noise and distractions around you?

Self-confidence
As you probably know, you need a reasonable expectation of success before you can attempt anything wholeheartedly. Do you believe you can achieve your goal? Do you have the skills? Do you need to organise any help or support? Think about your self-talk. When you’re giving yourself limiting, negative message that you can’t succeed, change them. The most important voice you’ll ever hear is your own.

 

Paint the picture

‘I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.’ (John Kennedy)

‘A computer on every desk in every home.’ (Bill Gates)

Every leader-manager, at every level, needs a clear vision, a picture of how we are when we’re doing our best work. You can’t avoid it if you want to engage your team.

Vision literally means ‘seeing’ and the best visions help people ‘see’ the ultimate results of their efforts.

Here you are, leading a team of toy makers. Which vision should you offer them:

  1. Our toys make wide-eyed kids laugh and proud parents smile.
  2. Our toys are enjoyed by all our customers.

Research found, not surprisingly, that vision number 1 encouraged significantly better performance.

When I lead meetings of leader-managers to develop a vision, I ask them to think of a day when every operation and every team is working optimally. Absolute perfection. A dream come true. Then I ask them to describe that day in these terms:

  • What am I seeing?
  • What am I hearing?
  • What am I doing?
  • What am I thinking?
  • What am I saying?

They write it down and then share it with the others. Then we capture the key themes and develop a joint vision. The resulting visions are invariably amazing and they all paint a clear picture that can bring employees fully on board.

What is your clear, image-based vision that you use to bring people fully on board?